Op-Ed: Opposing the South Dakota Ag and Environment Department Merger


By: Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union

As a fourth-generation family farmer, I have always felt blessed to live and work in South Dakota. With my three sons now raising their families on the farm, I am optimistic for their future because in South Dakota, agriculture is our state’s number one economic driver. South Dakota’s leaders get farming.

Or at least I thought they did.

I along with nearly 19,000 family farmers and ranchers who make up South Dakota Farmers Union are opposed to Governor Noem’s proposal to merge the Department of Agriculture with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Because agriculture is our state’s number one industry, we believe it deserves dedicated resources and a dedicated state department.

The current missions of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stand independent of one another. And because of this, these departments serve as a valuable check and balance system for one another.

For example, as the state’s only environmental protection agency, the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources is responsible for air, water, and soil protections. It oversees and provides the permits for livestock facilities, mining, oil and gas production, wells, water rights and air quality, and much more. The Department of Agriculture on the other hand focuses on crop and livestock production and health, industrial hemp, the state fair, weed and pest control. It is also the department that oversees, forestry, and wildland fire control.

If these two departments were to merge, there is the risk that their policies could come into conflict with each other. My fear, and the concern I hear from the family farmers and ranchers I serve, is that when this happens, our state’s agriculture industry could be on the losing end of a solution.

Governor Noem recently outlined her reasons for the proposed merger of the two departments. Among these were increased synergies and opportunities. SD Farmers Union supports collaboration and increased communication. As one of the state’s largest grassroots agriculture organizations, we constantly work with non-members and other organizations to achieve common goals. However, when we do not align, we do not risk our members’ resources being applied to projects or focuses that could harm them.

Our organization isn’t saying the current departments are perfect or that they cannot improve. We believe the South Dakota Department of Agriculture should focus even more resources on helping producers find new markets and expand existing markets for the quality products we produce in South Dakota. We are doubtful Department of Environment and Natural Resources engineers have the expertise to expand agriculture markets for South Dakota producers.

Nationwide, only two states have combined departments like Governor Noem proposes: Alaska and Rhode Island. Their agriculture industries are small in comparison to South Dakota’s $10 billion industry. Alaska is home to a $40 million agriculture industry, while Rhode Island is home to a $170 million agriculture industry. It seems the other 48 states see the necessity of having a standalone Department of Agriculture.

Tax savings is another reason Governor Noem gave for the proposed merger. I am going to repeat myself. Agriculture is our state’s number one industry and economic driver. It is a complex industry facing unique challenges and opportunities. We believe our state’s agriculture industry deserves a department whose resources and expertise are solely devoted to it.


South Dakota Farmers Union

Feature photo: Doug Sombke, provided by SDFU

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